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March 19, 2008

A tourist's perspective on Detroit

Detroit / Ville resiliente

A baffling, unsettling experience for any newcomer, arriving in the city of Detroit comes as a shock. Indeed, no amount of reading up on the city or knowledge of a few statistics can prepare you for being met with a huge, abandoned train station on arrival. This strange feeling only grows on discovering an impressive and near-appealing series of boarded-up buildings, but becomes disquieting on encountering the first burned-out shells of houses and yellow-painted Ds on those slated for destruction.

Ravaged by daily fires—houses, cars, trash cans—the city of Detroit has lost more than 200,000 homes in fifty years, covering an area almost equivalent to that of Montreal. Although Detroit’s plight is all too easily compared to post-apocalyptic devastation, the fact that it escapes all logic gives it a tragic character.

Despite several attempts at revitalization centred on the Renaissance Center—a monolithic mirrored-glass building complex parachuted into downtown Detroit—the city’s social and urban fabric continues to unravel. Since the post-industrial era, globalization, the civil-rights riots of 1967, the exodus of half the population—mostly whites—Detroit’s population now hovers below a million—85% African-American—and continues to decline, while the surrounding suburbs continue to thrive. Indeed, the population keeps growing in the outlying suburbs, among the wealthiest in the country. All too palpable, the chasm between the inner city and the outskirts is that much wider in that it results from the lack of any collective vision. . . .

(via Juan Cole)

March 18, 2008

On the Canadian dope trade

The dope rush | Extracts | guardian.co.uk Books

In British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, 50lb of bud was worth US$55,000 (about �27,500) at wholesale prices. In Spokane, two and a half hours from the border, its value had almost doubled to $100,000. If Dan could be bothered (which he often could), the trip to California added another $50,000 to his haul. If he drove it to Kentucky, he could sell it for $200,000 - almost four times the value in British Columbia.

The turnover of Dan's business was $100,000 a week with minimal capital outlay. As Stephen Easton of the venerable Simon Fraser Institute in Vancouver has noted, the profits from this trade are seductive even for its most junior participants. "For a modest marijuana growing operation of 100 plants, harvest revenue ... amounts to slightly less than $20,000. With four harvests a year, gross revenue is nearly $80,000. A conservatively high estimate of production cost is about $25,000. The return on invested money is potentially high: around 55%."

For the ordinary folk of western Canada, nothing competes financially. For the pros, like Dan and his buddies, it comes close to being a licence to print money. "I was part of a three-man team," Dan continued. "Marty coordinated all the grow ops to deliver the 50lb per week - that's no easy job. Much of it came from his own farms, but some smaller ops sold to him, and you have to maintain the quality. This is a highly competitive market and the guys we sold to, they knew their shit real good." Michael, the third partner, coordinated sales in the US. "Look," said Michael, whose laid-back appearance conformed much more to the hippyish stereotype than Dan's just-back-from-felling-an-entire-forest look, "there are a lot of problems - not just the question of your clients' reliability, but the security issues. God knows how many cellphones we use: we only use 'em for a week or so, then we chuck 'em away. There's a real damn problem remembering all the different phone numbers."

Charlie Rose chooses MacBook Air over his own face

Charlie Rose sacrifices face for MacBook Air - Engadget

If you caught the Charlie Rose show last night, this was the gruff ruffian you found presenting. The last thing you'd expect from the usually staid, easy going interviewer. Turns out Rose had a choice to make when he tripped on a 59th street pothole in New York City: protect his newly purchased MacBook Air, or his face -- he chose the former. According to his producers, "The Macbook Air is fine, he showed us the blood stains on it this morning."